Philosophy, fungus and flourishing failure.... Welcome to Lars Lyer's world
By Charlie Mcbride
LARS IYER is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is also the author of the novel Spurious, a raucous debut that summons up the fabled Goon Show comedies.
Spurious tells the story of ‘Lars’ and his ‘slightly more successful’ friend, W, and their journey in search of more palatable literary conferences where they serve better gin. Another reason for their journeys: Lars’s home is slowly being taken over by a fungus that no-one seems to know what to do about.
Before it completely swallows his house, the narrator feels compelled to solve some major philosophical questions (such as ‘Why?’) and the meaning of his urge to write, as well as the source of the fungus...before it’s too late...or, he has to move.
It all adds up to what should be one of the more intriguing and entertaining readings at next month’s Cúirt Literature Festival and ahead of his visit to Galway, Iyers took some time out to chat about his writing.
Spurious, and its sequel, Dogma, which was recently published, both emerged from Iyer’s blog ‘Spurious’ and he starts by revealing what prompted him to commence writing on the web.
“I wanted to find another way of working,” he tells me. “I’m an academic and used to addressing a scholarly audience and I wanted to reach a non-scholarly audience and I wanted to do so anonymously, ie, not relying on any academic authority or upon a title of any kind, I wanted to join this burgeoning new blogosphere where people tended to write anonymously, you’re not exactly sure where it’s coming from and we’re all in it together.”
So how did the blog become the novel?
“I was approached by a few publishers who encouraged me to think about constructing a larger narrative from the blog,” Iyers explains. “One day I just happened to come on the idea that would bind together some of the posts I had been writing about W – many of the posts are about this character. I felt I could arrange various posts together into what became the first novel, Spurious.
“The blog had been going for five or six years, there are more than a million words up on it. The material the publishers were interested in was the humorous material, I wrote them as light relief between longer and more serious posts but they were the ones publishers were interested in.
“They’re an exaggeration of adventures with a good friend of mine. We collaborate a lot philosophically, we must have given 30 or 40 presentations together over the years so the book is an exaggerated version of our escapades. The original idea was to use W and myself to amuse us and our small circle of friends.”
Spurious was published by Melville House and was hailed as “a tiny marvel of comically repetitive gloomery” by The Guardian among many other glowing reviews. Within the narrative the protagonists view themselves as failures in their philosophical field yet, perhaps paradoxically, the novel and its sequel have both been resounding successes.
“The success of the book was very surprising.” Iyers declares. “I would identify myself as a certain kind of philosophical failure but that’s often the case in philosophy. In philosophy you aspire to construct these philosophical systems to explain everything in our world and in relation to the great philosophers, who in the past created these systems, we are for the most part all of us failures.
“As a literary success, yes that was extremely surprising. The novels have generally been very well reviewed and there is a growing readership which has been an enormous surprise to me. I had no idea that any kind of audience existed for this kind of thing so I have converted the base matter of philosophical failure into literary success.”
The characters Lar and W have been likened to a philosophical Laurel and Hardy but also to Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon. Given Beckett’s own fixation on the themes of failure and disappointment, was he a writer Iyers feels an affinity with?
“It’s very flattering to be compared with such a great writer,” he replies. “He’s an author I’ve always been very excited by, especially when it comes to the formal innovations of his work. My work does not aim at the same level of formal originality but there are overlaps with plays like Waiting for Godot or Endgame. My characters are also waiting for a kind of redemption or something to allow their lives to make sense; at the same time they are aware nothing may occur to make that happen.”
Amid all the comedy of Lars and W’s misadventures in the novels there is also some underlying seriousness as Iyers discloses.
“Certainly the characters are obsessed with the idea of the apocalypse, climactic apocalypse, financial apocalypse and I share this pessimistic view of our future. These are topics that are dealt with in some detail in the novel and to that extent humour is a sweetener.”
The Lars and W trilogy will conclude early in 2013. “The third part of the trilogy is out in January next year,” Iyers reveals. “It ends with the Occupation Movement with W and Lars joining a University Occupation Movement.”
However barely does one trilogy draw to a close than Iyers embarks on another. The projected new trilogy, like its forebear also has its roots in an Iyer blog, a new one entitled ‘Wittgenstein Junior’.
“Hopefully that blog will also coalesce into a novel by the end of this year,” he says. “It may be the start of a new trilogy which will comprise novels concerned with great philosophers of the past and people in the present who are interested in them.
“The first volume will be on Wittgenstein, the second on Nietzsche. I’m far way along with first one. I haven’t written the humorous part of the blog yet. It’s a totally different work from the Lars and W books. ‘Wittgenstein Junior’ will be set in Cambridge university, ‘Nietzsche Junior’ will be set in a school, and the third one will feature a transvestite drag artist in Manchester.”
Plenty to look forward to then from the pen of Lars Iyer. In the meantime, Galway audiences can see him read at Cúirt on Wednesday April 25 at 6.30pm in the Town Hall where he will share the platform with Norway’s Kjersti Skomsvold.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie